Film review by Colin Fraser

A Scanner Darkly
In the near future, society is collapsing under a wave of drug abuse. A former dealer has been brought into the war effort, but years of abuse have left a scar. score

moviereview rates films from
5 (unmissable) to 1 (unwatchable)
Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder

Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater,
Phillip K. Dick


Rating / Running Time
M / 100 minutes

Australian Release
November 2006

Official Site

(c) moviereview 2006
ABN 72 775 390 361

One of literature’s great tortured souls, Phillip K. Dick, has been the source for some of cinema’s better identity blenders – Bladerunner and Total Recall among them. A Scanner Darkly joins this list if only for its capacity to relate Dick’s uniquely troubled point of view. “Does a scanner see clearly, or darkly?” poses one character. “Darkly,” mumbles Bob Arctor (Reeves), whose dual lives as an undercover narcotics cop and ersatz dealer has clouded his world view. He’s been roped into a war on the drug he still pushes, but memory lapses and mounting schizophrenia are taking their toll. Bob’s girlfriend and chemically affected housemates are not helping and as Thom Yorke eloquently notes on the soundtrack, this is pretty f’ked up.

For all that the film has going for it, Linklater doesn’t really fulfil the promise of his opening sequences. This should be irresistible, certainly the dynamic use of rotoscoping (animated live-action as seen in Waking Life) is compelling but the jumbled story-telling and confused purpose is both infuriating and tiring. A Scanner Darkly fizzes where it should pop, buzzes where it should sing. Linklater has much to say yet rather like his characters, can’t focus long enough to get the point across clearly. Nevertheless this is destined to become a cult and with reasonable cause. While it’s not a great film, it’s a sturdy adaptation of source material that is elevated by choice casting. For if anyone knows anything about gloom, explosive behaviour and drug-fried carry-on, it’s Reeves, Harrelson and Downey Jr in turn. Add some hilariously paranoid monologues and you’ll find there’s a little something for most everyone.